This is a story of a loaf of bread. This is a story of a doctor who makes bread–white bread at that–every week. This is a story of how this white bread potentially saved an overwhelmed mother’s life. My life.
It had been a very long time since I had been present. Between taking care of three young kids and taking care of building my clinical practice, I wouldn’t admit it at the time, but I feared that I had lost the ability to actually stop and be present. Things had spiraled so out of hand that I actually thought running in place in my bathroom late night to get those American Heart Association-recommended 10,000 steps counted for my daily exercise.
After all, I was counseling patients in my clinical practice regarding lifestyle modification, including getting enough exercise. I thought it was hypocritical to prescribe 10,000 steps a day and not aim for that myself. However, clearly “running” in place in my bathroom was not a sustainable method of exercise! Not to mention how ridiculous I looked.
Like my fabulous women patients at the Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Health Center, I juggled myriad responsibilities. Physician, mother, wife, friend, daughter. I was always over there when I should have been over here. But busy was good—or so I thought. I had managed to act out a rather successful life, so why stop now? I believed unconsciously that I didn’t need to take care of myself to still be able to take care of others, that I was somehow immune from the diseases and sadness I saw in my patients each day. So I kept moving, dashing between patient visits and school-pickups and Target runs in our hideous utilitarian forest-green minivan that I had vowed never to purchase in the first place, just trying to hold it together. It was controlled chaos.
Then I made a two loaves of challah one Friday morning.
Making them was transformative for me. I had to stop and just be; I couldn’t answer the beeper or fill out a school form or anything else. The challahs looked gorgeous when I took them out of the oven. I was hooked. That night, my kids and husband were amazed; only crumbs remained on the platter.
I made them again the next Friday. Now, after making over a thousand challahs, I realized that I have been on a journey that I didn’t even realize I was on at first. The journey starts and stops every Friday at my kitchen counter. With my hands steeped in the flour-covered dough, I realized just how healing this ritual was for me. The mixing and the kneading and the braiding—they were meditative; they helped me cultivate patience and a sense of presence.
It’s a messy experience, making dough. Life is messy too. That’s ok. My journey has taught me that I can muddle through this messiness of living and working and motherhood and find beauty on the other side. I can do the best that I can do each Friday, and sometimes the challah is simply gorgeous, and sometimes it’s not. I’ve learned to accept this. I’ve learned that making challah is a process.
Adapted from Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs (She Writes Press) by Beth Ricanati, MD.